Saturday, November 13, 2004

Debaclé: Where is the Left Going ?

El Jefe has been wondering what would happen to the Left as a faction, following Kerry’s defeat. I started thinking about this late on Election Night (or early the next morning), as it became clear that Senator Kerry would not need to give the Post Office any change-of-address cards. I do not think that President Bush’s reelection necessarily represents a “mandate” but it is certainly going to have consequences, not least to the Left in this country. The Democrats are busily engaged in their usual circular-firing-squad-style post-defeat feud, but some trends are already becoming apparent.

1). Fragmentation and Conspiracies. Short term: the defeat means the fragmentation of the left, as the various components of the Democratic coalition indulge in recriminations over the defeat, blaming rival factions within their own coalition for the debacle; and alternatively lamenting the stupidity of the American people; and the skill at criminality of the Bush administration, whose legitimacy they shall continue to deny. This trend is already apparent in left-wing newspaper commentaries; a summary is presented in my 9 November post “Liberal Meltdown.”

Many will see their defeat as the result of a conspiracy, of Bush/Karl Rove/Ashcroft efforts to suppress the vote, and hide the “true” results. Kerry’s quick concession, good for the country, was probably bad for the Left, contributing in the short run to the Democrats’ fragmentation, because party unity is built in part around the “victim” status of being ripped off, as they see it, by Bush in 2000. In the long run, Kerry’s quick concession will contribute to the demise of Kerry’s Washington insider faction as power brokers in the Democratic Party, and the rise of more radical/populist factions.

2). Rise of the anti-war Left. In the near term, the hard left will focus on its opposition to the war, particularly that part of it in Iraq. Most Democrats can agree to oppose the Iraqi war, and if the steady dribble of casualties continues, they can expect to attract some popular support. The administration has a limited amount of time to settle the Iraq business, probably no longer than six to eight months.

3). Rise of Economic Populism. Pay attention to John Edwards’ concession speech, and recall the last weeks of the Gore campaign of 2000. (the Bob Shrumish, Ted Kennedyesque “I’ll fight for working people” rhetoric). The Kerry campaign, rooted in the upper middle class, the Washington establishment and the universities, generally avoided direct appeals to any sort of populism, even of the economic variety.
But the defeat of Kerry will effectively be the end of the establishment Democratic Party, and will likely lead to the rise of a more populist, more leftist party, built on the twin pillars of opposition to globalization (which will satisfy the university Left); and a revitalization of working-class support. This party faction is going to be more militant, and less quietist then the increasingly discredited DLC/East Coast Brahmin /Washington establishment faction typified, respectively by Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Tom Daschle. Watch Edwards, watch Howard Dean.

4). Violence ? Some have warned about the violent tendencies of some parts of the left, in particular John O’Sullivan in National Review, and Todd Gitlin in the Washington Monthly. The possibility cannot be ignored. Consider that the Left made a truly unified, total effort to throw out Bush. The late campaign just concluded was the united project of the university Left, the big television media, the permanent government bureaucracy, the plaintiff's Bar, the non-governmental organization lobbies, the anti-globalization crowd, Hollywood and the cultural elite, and other chattering classes, plus the unions, and the civil-rights establishment.

All these diverse groups and individuals made an awesome, truly Herculean effort to cooperate, submerge their differences, and work together to beat Bush. The degree of agreement on the Left to ignore Nader and eschew the traditional Democratic sport of fragmentation and support John Kerry, an unsatisfactory candidate for many “progressives,” was amazing The result was the most formidable electoral coalition the Left has ever assembled, with an awesome GOTV effort – and it failed utterly, at every level.

The rage this defeat will produce is going to be both immense and terrible. Portions of the hard-Left will have less and less use for the constitutional republic as we understand it, and will move more towards open support of outright socialism and class warfare. Some small number of still more radical members of the Left will, quite probably, see no purpose whatever in continuing to pursue peaceful politics. Something like the old Weather Underground may appear, particularly if the war continues.

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